Seen from a distance, the view of a city is a sight of promise, spectacle, and stimulation. From this perspective, it is a place that can feel so large and anonymous yet can help materialize our sense of location, orientation, grounding, and belonging. Historically, buildings that rose above a city’s sightline were constructed for religious and sacred purposes - the Hagia Sophia, The Cathedral of Chartes, Angkor Wat, St. Peter's Basilica, the Great Hall of the Buddha. In contemporary times, commerce has driven how urban skylines have developed - Burj Khalifa, Transamerica Pyramid, Shanghai World Financial Center, Empire State Building, Petronas Twin Towers. Tapered roofs and radio antennae - which are sacred, which are profane?
These graphite drawings are not referenced from real buildings, but represent a prototypical modern urban landscape. The economic, cultural, religious, and territorial relationships between buildings and people form complex and oftentimes contentious spheres of interaction. This will only increase in years to come. In 1800, only 3% of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 1900, 14% were living in urban areas, although only 12 cities had 1 million or more inhabitants. In 1950, 30% of the world's population resided in urban centers, and the number of cities with over 1 million people had grown to 83. In 2008, for the first time, the world's population was evenly split between urban and rural areas, and there were more than 400 cities with over 1 million inhabitants and 19 cities over 10 million. By 2050, it is predicted that 70% of the world population will be urban, and that most of the growth will occur in less developed countries.
According to the United Nations, the world’s population reached 7 billion in late 2011 and is predicted to reach 10 billion as soon as 2050. With so many people moving towards cities and with urban areas continuing to increase in size and density, what becomes of the 30% that sees the city from this peripheral perspective? Will there still be a there there?
Kevin B. Chen has been involved in the San Francisco Bay Area arts community for close to 20 years as a curator, writer, and visual artist. His work has been exhibited in the Bay Area at Southern Exposure, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, ampersand international arts, Blankspace, and Kearny Street Workshop, and nationallt at Angel’s Gate Cultural Center (San Pedro, CA), and The Kitchen (New York, NY). He is represented by Jack Fisher Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
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